Metro Welding Supply Corp.

GAWDA’s 2007 President-Elect Gary Stoneback and brother Greg Stoneback are following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather. Adhering to the old-fashioned values of hard work, loyalty to their welding and industrial, medical and specialty gases company’s employees and a vision for the future, Gary and older brother Greg are third-generation distributors building their company’s future.

Metro Welding Supply Corp.

President: Greg Stoneback
Year Founded:
Year Joined GAWDA:
Detroit, Michigan
70% gases, 30% hardgoods
Gas Breakdown: 50% specialty, medical, cryogenic liquid;
30% industrial, 20% laser

Employees: 21
Web Site:

A Family Tradition
When Howard “Stoney” Stoneback, by trade an engineer in the steel fabrication business, purchased 28-year-old Robinson Welding Supply in 1965, he provided a platform from which three generations would thrive, building on the foundation that he established. A year later, the former engineer invited his son Neal to join him in the business.

Neal, a former Chrysler employee, joined his dad in 1966 and eventually renamed the company Metro Welding Supply Corp. Just like their father did, Neal’s sons Greg, 39, and Gary, 36, eventually left their careers—Greg as a commercial lender and Gary as a civil engineer—to join the family-owned Detroit, Michigan, company.

Now president, Greg Stoneback joined the company in 1991 at his father’s request to replace a soon-to-be retired sales manager of 25 years, William Geoghegan. Gary Stoneback, GAWDA’s 2006-2007 President-Elect and Metro Welding Supply Corp.’s operations manager, joined the company two years later to take on the day-to-day management of the company’s operations. Together, the brothers visualized the future for potential growth and have worked shoulder to shoulder ever since.

A Father’s Legacy
Neal Stoneback decided to begin phasing himself out of the day-to-day business shortly after Gary joined the company. Neal believed his son could quickly learn and understand the basics of the company’s operations, but Gary indicates he learned something even more crucial than operational strategies from his dad. He says, “I learned my dad’s work ethic when I was relatively young. I remember, as a child, that my mom would keep dinner warm and that we would eat as a family at 7:00 P.M. or whenever he came home. He worked long hours and was very dedicated to the business. He also was very active in what was then called NWSA.” Laughing, Gary also points to a dress code of sorts. “If you attended a meeting, you better have had a tie on. He is very professional in his way of carrying himself when representing our company, and he passed that on to us.”


Second and third generations carry on the legacy of the first. Neal Stoneback, center, with his sons Gary (left) and Greg.

Greg points to several lessons his father taught him. First, he points to his dad’s relationships with vendors. “My dad believed in the value of a handshake. He had relationships with every supplier, and it was those relationships that helped to establish the strong foundation he laid for our company.” Also, Greg notes the fiscal conservativeness of the elder Stoneback. “Gary and I were left with a very solid company to manage. My dad planned for growth and then proceeded with a certain degree of caution, never over-extending the company. He also was very conservative when it came to extending credit to customers. He taught us that the sales we made were not very valuable if the product wasn’t paid for.”

Both brothers agree that in many ways their father was ahead of his time. Says Greg, “His decision to purchase the cryogenic gases division of our company more than 30 years ago correctly positioned our company for today’s success. He also had the entrepreneurial spirit to focus on filling our own gases, when many urged him to continue to purchase the cylinders from our supplier.” Gary points to his father’s early use of computers. “At least in the Midwest, we were the first to barcode cylinders.” In 1980, Metro Welding Supply Corp. began utilizing a manual system to track cylinders, eventually contracting a software designer to write the software which allowed the company to computerize its systems in 1989. “Today,” adds Gary, “we track well over 15,000 cylinders and of course use a software package that was designed for our industry.”

A Loyal Workforce
Thirteen years ago, Metro Welding Supply Corp.’s revenue was one-quarter of what it is today. Employees numbered 18. Today the company employs just 21 people, yet revenue has quadrupled in that time frame. Operations Manager Gary Stoneback points to the advantages of technology and working smarter as two principal reasons for the increase. That, and adherence to a lesson taught by Neal Stoneback. Says Gary, “My father taught us that to ensure our future success, we needed to operate lean. We do. We take advantage of technology. But we also rely on good people.”


Metro Welding Supply Corp.'s medical oxygen fill room

Metro Welding Supply Corp. employees defy the current description of Generation X and Y employees as short-tenured employees, hopping from job to job. Greg explains, “We try to identify employees who have the old-time values of loyalty and a solid work ethic. Rather than always looking for industry experience, we look for individuals who can be trained to do the job. Our employees are not watching a clock. They like to come to work. And we try to make it a place that they like coming to.” Gary adds, “Our industry is not the most glamorous of industries and is not for the faint of heart. We always explain that during the first interview. We look for employees who can handle the pressures associated with working for a small company. We promise each employee that we are fair and that we will continue to reward loyalty and hard work. The result of honoring our promises to be fair and to reward their hard work is that we are able to retain most of our key employees.”

Gary suggests that the ability to remain flexible as an employer can generate positive results when it comes time to rely on an experienced team of loyal employees. He cites the example of the company’s office manager, Beth Frey, who has been with the company since 1992. “When Beth needed to spend more time with her children, her schedule was reduced to four days. Personally, I was grateful that we had the benefit of her efforts on those four days.” The company also makes it a point to celebrate employee anniversaries and other milestones. Depending on the milestone event, an employee can look forward to taking his family out to dinner, courtesy of the company, or even on an all expenses paid mini-vacation to Disney World, also courtesy of the company. Employees receive two bonuses each year: One at the end of the year reflects how the company fared that year; another at Christmas, regardless of the economy.


Specialty, medical and cryogenic liquid gases make up half of Metro Welding Supply's offerings. This early diversification moved the company away from a reliance on industrial gases in the Detroit marketplace.

The number of years of experience possessed by the Metro Welding Supply Corp. sales force illustrates this point. Of the current four salespeople, three have been with the company for over 15 years. The fourth is a new hire with more than 15 years of industry experience. Greg says, “With all of our experience, each salesperson is 45 years old or younger, and each is capable of developing our company’s growth for many years in the future.” Many employees started at the company at a young age. Overall, the tenure with the company is an average of seven years.

All the Stonebacks agree that the dedication and loyalty of employees must be rewarded, and they recognize that the success of the company is built upon their employees’ commitment to the company’s success. Says Gary, “Metro Welding Supply Corp. employees are the best employees of any distributorship in the United States. I really mean that.”

Planned Growth
President Greg Stoneback explains the company’s penchant for planned growth, “In 1971, my father purchased a company that sold cryogenic gases in order to differentiate Metro Welding Supply Corp. as an industrial supplier to our hospital and university customers. My dad realized that in a very competitive market, we needed to focus our efforts on business outside of the automotive industry.” At the time, there were 53 distributors in the Metro Detroit region. Today there are 10.

The brothers maintain strong ties with a variety of universities and hospitals located throughout the greater Detroit area and its outlying suburbs. The ratio of cryogenic sales is weighted to support increased profitability: 70% gases and 30% hardgoods. Notes Gary, “The typical GAWDA distributor’s revenues may be closer to a ratio of 40% gases and 60% hardgoods. Some are 55% gases, 45% hardgoods.” Half of Metro Welding Supply Corp’s gas business is comprised of specialty, medical and cryogenic liquid gases marketed to hospital and university customers, while the remaining 30% is industrial gas sales and 20% is laser sales.

Metro Welding Supply Corp. opened its specialty gas lab in 1997. Up until then, the company purchased all of its specialty gases from outside vendors. The lab paid for itself within 14 months. The specialty gas lab allowed the company to differentiate itself within the Greater Detroit marketplace, and it allowed the company to begin meeting the specialty gas needs of other independents. “Meeting our own specialty gas needs dovetails with our ability to meet our own propane and propylene needs,” says Greg. “As an independent, the more needs we can meet in-house, the better. We must continually examine what we are capable of doing in-house in order to maintain control of our future. It must make sense economically to not rely on a second source. We must put the future in our own hands.”

Laser cutting gases is a burgeoning area of growth for Metro Welding Supply Corp. The company has partnered with a number of successful laser cutting and welding suppliers of steel, and some of those accounts have expanded out of state, enabling delivery of product to more locations. Reflecting on the company’s talent for developing relationships with its suppliers and customers, it’s not hard to understand how some of the major laser manufacturers are now providing Metro Welding Supply Corp. with leads.

Future Growth


Liquid Nitrogen, Argon, Oxygen and CO2 await delivery from the nine vehicle fleet.

According to Gary, “We have nurtured our existing customers, and for many of them, we have become their key supplier of new laser cutting gases and laser welding products. Our salespeople know the markets we serve, and they continue to develop niche businesses that are reflecting positively on the bottom line.” An example of a niche market for which laser cutting gases and products are increasing in importance is the utility industry. The Stonebacks also expect growth generated by customers that require specialized packaging needs. Gary explains, “We have invested time and money in the specialized packaging of cylinders of liquid containers in order to service those customers. We are able to both save the end-user customer, as well as create an additional revenue stream for our company.”

Greg indicates there may be potential future growth of the company’s biotech business, as well. “Overall,” he says, “we have been realistic. We know that the keys to our future growth are first, take care of our existing customer base; second, continue to maintain our leading edge in the delivery of gases technology and packaging; and third, as our father taught us, continue to develop relationships with the right customers.

Currently, the company does not have any walk-in business, as its location in northwestern Detroit is not easy for the bulk of those customers to get to. Gary adds, “At some point in the future, we may want to develop a new location and then reap the rewards of a higher margin over-the-counter sale.” Still, the company’s current footprint consists of a 90-mile circumference of downtown Detroit. Not a bad footprint in a market where only the strong survive.

GAWDA’s Next President-Elect
Gary Stoneback remembers his first Board of Directors meeting, held during the 2000 Annual Convention in Maui. At that time he was a guest, in anticipation of his role as Central Zone Director. He was elected Central Zone Vice President in 2003 and has served in that role since.


Jared Fraunfelter fills medical oxygen in Metro Welding Supply Corp.'s medical room.

The value of GAWDA membership is not lost on him, and one of his goals is to make sure that each member of GAWDA is tapping into the resources that are theirs as a member of the association. He says, “Many smaller members of GAWDA have not really utilized the expertise made available to them through the GAWDA consultants. The knowledge that they have at their disposal, because they are members, is a tremendous business asset. GAWDA provides a safety net for all of us.”

In fall 2007, Gary Stoneback will become GAWDA’s 62nd President, the same year that Metro Welding Supply Corp. turns 70. He notes, “Some economists are now predicting that the economy will soften in 2008-09. We must take advantage of the good times while preparing for the future. Our industry will continue to evolve. It’s the responsibility of each of us to take the actions required in order to ensure that our companies and our association will flourish in the future.”

Gary knows first hand the sacrifices made and the challenges small companies must meet in today’s business climate. From a foundation of success, built on the vision of Howard and Neal Stoneback, the strengths of the company’s employees, and the wisdom of his and his brother Greg’s day-to-day work, he is well prepared to lead the association toward the end of the first decade of this new century.

Asked if he had any advice for GAWDA’s future president, Neal Stoneback commented, “When all our children were growing up, my wife and I acted like the highway patrol in an effort to help them to build character. Each was taught to look someone in the eye and tell it like it is and to appreciate individuals for who they are.”

GAWDA’s 2007-08 President will put his all into the job, and will do so without ego in an attitude of service. Gary Stoneback will focus his efforts on conservatively building for success, correctly positioning the association for the welding and industrial, medical and specialty gases industry. And he will tell it like it is.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association